One of the glories of the EB-5 (immigrant investor) program is its seeming ability to bring out the worst in some people.
The program typically brings ultra-low-cost capital to big city real estate ventures and promises a family-sized bunch of green cards to aliens who put up $500,000 for a project OK'd by, but not guaranteed by, the Department of Homeland Security. Real estate middlemen, including the honorable ones, love the program because it increases their profits remarkably — the EB-5 investors are much more interested in obtaining the green cards than they are in getting a good return on their investment.
It is in this environment that many mono-lingual but rich Mandarin speakers make their EB-5 investments, and many of these investors fall into the hands of shady operators.
One such middleman, Seyed Taher Kameli, operating in the Chicago area, was hauled into court by the ever-watchful Securities and Exchange Commission last year because he "improperly commingled and otherwise improperly used portions of the $88.7 million [EB-5] investment ... and has spent a significant portion of the investment proceeds for his own benefit", as we reported at the time.
Kameli runs at least two law firms as well as his other enterprises. Last year, one of his victims, one John Doe, sued USCIS for not granting him a green card when his investment, handled by Kameli, failed to produce any new jobs as required by the EB-5 law.
The lawsuit was perfectly understandable, as was the district court judge's decision against it, but in the next step John Doe appealed that decision to the Seventh Circuit, with one of Kameli's legal associates as his counsel.
The Seventh Circuit then set aside the appeal on the grounds that:
This raises a serious question of conflict of interest. ... We conclude that disqualification is appropriate.
The appeals court gave Doe 60 days to find another lawyer.
While Doe (who may well be a mono-lingual Mandarin speaker) may have been hoodwinked by the Kameli firm, he certainly showed he had more money than smarts.
And, as for Kameli, he gets the Oscar for the Most EB-5 Chutzpah of the Year.